May vs Corbyn: Trust in Power vs Power of Trust

We all saw it. That moment when the guy in the audience at the TV election debate mouthed the word ‘bollocks’ as the Prime Minister was talking about her plans for the NHS. Maybe we laughed? Maybe we were shocked? Maybe we were disgusted? Yet somehow, as the clip went viral on social media, we sensed it was a pivotal moment in this election campaign. Why was that? Because we sensed it was the moment that our Prime Minister became one of ‘them’ rather than one of ‘us’. Meanwhile, minutes earlier Jeremy Corbyn had been lynched for being a pacifist by the nasty pantomime villain, Mr. Paxman. In that moment, you sensed that Jeremy Corbyn had suddenly become one of ‘us’ – someone who didn’t want to kill thousands of innocent people in a nuclear holocaust. How do we make sense of these differing gut reactions?

The research on trust gives us a big clue. First, the 2017 Edelman trust barometer reveals that only 36% of people in this country trust politicians to ‘do the right thing’. In essence, this statistic suggests that 64% of us are mouthing the word ‘bollocks’ in our own heads every time we hear a traditional, mainstream politician speaking. In contrast, the same research revealed that 60% of us rate as extremely or very credible ‘someone like us’ compared to 29% who have the same view about government officials. So the trick for our political leaders is to do everything they can to behave like one of us and avoid absolutely anything that give the impression that they are a traditional politician. We recognise this in the formula that enabled Donald Trump to ride into the White House on a tide of anti-establishment anger and the similar tide that swept Emmanuel Macron into the Elysee Palace as the new prime minister of France. They turned their political naivety into a winning advantage.

The simple message is this: people want something different from their leaders. To paraphrase the author, Charles Green, people today want leaders who rely upon the power of trust rather than those who trust in power.

Whatever your leadership domain, if you are a leader who recognises and anticipates this shift then you will seize the day. If you are a political leader you will win elections. If you are a business leader you will win new clients. If you are a religious leader you will gain new believers. But first you must learn how to rely upon the power of trust and how to let go of trusting in power. The first stop in changing our leadership habits is to recognise the implications of the following trust formula:-

Trust = Ability x Integrity x Benevolence

This is a formula for trust that has been rigorously proven and tested by many academic researchers over the past twenty years and in it lie three clues to becoming a leader who relies upon the power of trust:-

  • Clue No.1 – it is insufficient to rely upon ability alone. Theresa May can be as strong and stable as she wants but if we suspect her of lying or not caring about others then her trustworthiness will be shot
  • Clue No.2 – integrity is partly about being honest, but it is also about being open to show vulnerability. We want to see that you are a human being so, ironically, when Jeremy Corbyn shows vulnerability by forgetting the figures on child care costs in his manifesto, some of us reply ‘well, at least it shows he’s human’. At least it shows he is one of us.
  • Clue No.3 – benevolence means to care for the well-being of others. It is common human care, compassion and kindness. Once again, in this new world of leadership, to be a pacifist is no longer regarded as weakness, it is no longer a veiled insult because the opposite of being a pacifist is to be a war-monger. The opposite of being a benevolent leader is to be a malevolent leader and those type of leaders are increasingly mis-trusted.

At this stage in the election debate we could argue that Theresa May is way ahead of Jeremy Corbyn in terms of her proven ability as a politician. However, we might also guess that Jeremy Corbyn is way ahead in terms of his integrity and benevolence as a human being. If it were all down to trusting in power then Theresa May is a shoe-in for a landslide victory on the 8th June, but if it is down to relying upon the power of trust then it might be a much closer race than we have previously imagined. Whatever the outcome of the general election, the real question for those of us who will never be the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition is how these shifting sands of leadership show up in our own lives and in our own work. Are we still trusting in power or are we daring to rely upon the power of trust?

John explores the nine habits that inspire trust in his book, ‘The Trusted Executive’ which has been shortlisted as the CMI book of the year. Available to order now via Amazon UK.

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